Sometimes, it seems as if the world is broken. Uncertainty is rife, surrounding so many aspects of everyday life, and things are changing every day. This morning, Australia’s government placed an indefinite ban on international travel, plus a range of other bans on large gatherings of people.
All these measures are in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic of our time. Over the past weeks, our world has changed immeasurably and none of us know if it will ever return to what we regarded until recently as “normal”.
Every one of us will be affected differently. As I started writing this, I was sitting with my daughter and her partner in their Melbourne home. All of us were working on our laptops. Over the past two days, both of them have been told by their employers that they – and all their colleagues – will be working from home for at least the next two weeks. Maybe more.
Five days ago, I caught an almost empty flight from Brisbane to Melbourne to attend the 60th birthday party of one of my closest friends on Saturday night. Would it go ahead, I wondered, as the call was already out for self-imposed “social isolation” to be practiced? It did, but quite a number of guests cancelled.
We had a lovely weekend, taking walks and playing in the park with my 18-month-old grandson Ollie. By Sunday night, the work situation had changed, including my own.
Already, I was aware that my travel writing work would be considerably impacted. Today’s overseas travel ban is one thing, but even travel within Australia is not being encouraged. Even remote areas, where we might think we are away from crowds, are closed to visitors, including indigenous communities in the Northern Territory where there are already underlying health issues, and a lack of health facilities to deal with something like a COVID-19 outbreak.
How different this is to a few weeks ago, when we were urged to “holiday at home” in an effort to help those communities ravaged by bushfires over the summer, or by ongoing drought. Now, we are not going far at all, having to defer or rethink plans. Travel writers like me are looking for alternative places or things to write about. Some of my colleagues are looking for alternative sources of income. I’m going to learn a new skill, brought about by the changes made to the university courses I teach part-time. My journalism students will no longer come to class for the rest of the semester; instead, I’ll be teaching them online (thankful that at least I will have that work).
This afternoon, I flew home to Brisbane, finding eerily empty airports at both ends of my journey. I expected the flight to be full due to the cancellation of other flights, as Australia’s two major domestic airlines have cut services drastically. Instead, there were plenty of empty seats and I had a whole row to myself.
While I’m happy to be back in my own home (and home office), I’m not looking forward so much to having to restock my fridge and kitchen cupboards. When I’m about to travel, as I did last month to Japan for two weeks, I tend to run down my supplies. Thankfully, I’ve got plenty of toilet paper and there’s bread in my freezer. But braving the supermarket, where shelves are reportedly bare due to panic bulk-buying, is not something I’m keen to do.
For the next two weeks, I’m going into self-imposed isolation. I am well and healthy, but this week I have been on planes and trains, at a party for 50 people, in restaurants, pubs and cafes. I’ve been social, and now I’m going to step back and avoid contact with too many people. Things have changed so much in the past week, and I don’t want to risk being the person who infects others.
So, I will write, clean house, read books, catch up on my doctoral studies, and limit my social contact to the phone, Facetime or Skype. I’ll use the quiet time to meet some deadlines already in place, and to plan ahead for the time when travel is safe again.
This blog will provide an outlet for stories I’m not able to place with editors whose pages will also be impacted, either by loss of advertising or by editorial decisions on places to feature. And I hope to provide some inspiration for you, my readers, as you plan and dream for the time when you can travel again.
Fear of what the future holds seems to be paralysing some people, and while it’s understandable, I prefer to look for the positive. A glass half full, right? There are many reasons to continue to love life and treasure the small joys that every day can bring.
Let’s celebrate the good things each day can bring, simple things like a sunrise or sunset, flowers, birdsong, a brisk walk. It might sound corny but in these times every little thing that can lift our spirits should be celebrated.
For me, the past five days have brought the joy of a small boy clambering onto my lap, dancing to his favourite music, scribbling colour onto a blank page, marvelling at the texture of a spiky green leaf. The joy of a warm chubby hand grasping mine to negotiate stairs, the brush of silky soft baby hair on my face, and a cheeky smile at some secret baby thought.
This morning, my daughter’s doorbell rang. On the step was my friend Liz, holding a pack of disposable nappies, another commodity that young parents are finding in short supply on the supermarket shelves. She’d seen them while shopping and grabbed some – just in case. A gift, a kindness that was much appreciated!
I hope all of you keep well and strong and healthy, and come through the next weeks and months. Please stay calm, stay positive, take each day as it comes, be kind to each other, and wash your hands regularly.